DURING the Holy Thursday Mass at the Manila Cathedral, two Manobo chieftains were among the twelve invited by Cardinal Luis Tagle to receive the Catholic traditional washing of feet.
Mintroso Malibato and Kaylo Bontulan, from Kapalong and Talaingod, respectively, joined ten other people that include migrants, political refugees and a priest who was held hostage during the Marawi Siege.
Cardinal Tagle reminds the Catholic people of Pope Francis’ New Year’s message of concern for refugees and migrants all over the world. With proxy wars and aggression against natural resources happening, tribes, race, indigenous peoples and even states are crumbling.
This message is a reminder to look with concern on the plight of the Manobo tribes where Malibato and Bontulan live. Theirs is a community displaced by counter-insurgency since Noynoy Aquino’s time and up to the present era of Martial Law in Mindanao.
Another indigenous leader who was supposed to be invited to the Mass was Datu Isidro Indao from Kitaotao, Bukidnon. But since he was tagged among the many indigenous leaders in the DOJ petition as a “communist terrorist”, he opted to skip the event.
Mintroso recently lost his brother, 23-year-old Garito, who was shot by the paramilitary in their village in Barangay Gupitan. Their other brother Delio narrated that Garito was warned repeatedly to “surrender”.
Mintroso and most of his village members have been bawkets or internal refugees in UCCP Haran for three years because of the threats from the paramilitary. This is also the same story for Bontulan’s village in Talaingod.
Their tribes evacuated in 2015, and their numbers swelled up to nearly 800 in UCCP Haran. Most of them have decided to return, tired of being evacuees and braved the threats of the paramilitary. But still, many have come back to the evacuation center.
Every now and then, they receive word of their relatives, and school teachers being harassed in Talaingod and Kapalong. There are reportedly more evacuees coming down as soldiers are labeling them as NPA and forcing them to surrender.
They have been called many names by the military, and by the government’s social media trolls. “Subversives”, “bayaran”, “NPA sympathizers”. This is disconnect to how city folks fancy their costumes, dances and traditions. But most of all, this is disconnect to how Lumads, the collective term of the 18 indigenous tribes in Mindanao, see themselves.
A Manobo in Haran bakwet asks: We defend our ancestral land from plunder and plantations. But what do they call us? Why are they forcing us to surrender?
These questions call for us to reflect at the state of things in Mindanao. As Cardinal Tagle washes their feet, we are reminded there are historical and social wounds that the Lumads are suffering from that we need to heal.